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Chess Life’s U.S. Championship Preview Print E-mail
By IM Greg Shahade   
April 16, 2009
Alexander Onischuk is given a 16% chance to win the U.S. Championship by IM Greg Shahade. Photo by Cathy Rogers
GM Yury Shulman will be defending his 2008 U.S. Championship crown in St. Louis, but with a world championship contender gunning for him, how realistic are his repeat chances? IM Greg Shahade assesses the field for Chess Life.


(55% chance that one of these three wins the event)

I give him the number one spot mainly for his fighting spirit and tenacity. His average result may be below Kamsky’s but I think he wins the event a bit more often. Another factor towards ranking him #1 is that I'd give him the edge over everyone if it goes to tiebreaker.
Chance of winning: 20%

One of the top players in the world, coming off a world championship match loss to Topalov. His chances to win are great, but I ranked him slightly below Nakamura due to Hikaru’s tendencies towards uncompromising chess. Also can he bring his “A” game to this event after recently playing for the world championship?
Chance of winning: 19%

I have him only slightly behind Nakamura and Kamsky. Onischuk is an extremely solid and classical player, and recently won the powerful Moscow Open.
Chance of winning: 16% 


(Very good winning chances. Give this group about a 26% chance to win)

GM Yury Shulman: The defending champion is surely the class of this group. He plays fighting and uncompromising chess and it would surprise no one to see a repeat winner.  (12%)

GM Alexander Shabalov: This three-time champion is highly ranked for similar reasons that I ranked Nakamura above Kamsky. He could have a disastrous tournament, but his tendency towards taking risks plays out well when the goal is first place. Winning the tournament or a 50%/minus score are both possible. (8%)

GM Varuzhan Akobian: Because of his relative youth, strength and activity level, his chances should be reasonable, although I suspect the top three still outclass him a little bit. (6%)


These are mostly very strong players who in their prime would have been top contenders but now are behind a
few guys at the top. They all are capable of big performances if the cards break right (18%)

GM Larry Christiansen: Relatively out of practice, but his fighting spirit may give him better chances than most. Just a few years ago he had a very good U.S. championship performance in a similar situation. Also won Linares in 1981!

GM Jaan Ehlvest: This former #6 player in the world is still very strong, but he’ll have a tough time these days against the top guys.

GM Gregory Kaidanov: Despite being a dominant force in the ’90s, he somehow has never won a U.S. championship. Given that he’s relatively inactive now, it seems like a bit of a gamble to predict this will be the first.

GM Joel Benjamin: Also relatively inactive, except when it comes to answering e-mails at Chess Life Online. Benjamin mentioned in an article a few years ago that he’s on a “no draw” kick and this obviously helps when it comes to winning events.

GM Julio Becerra: He’s dominated the U.S. Chess League for four seasons now. Unfortunately I’ve never seen him
perform especially well in such a strong field, but his many fans from Miami will be hoping he can do it.

GM Ildar Ibragimov:
Very inactive and it has shown in his recent results. Ildar is a very creative player, so he always has a chance. However, in the few events he has played in the past few years his rating has dropped about 50 points.


But not impossible!  2%

GM Josh Friedel: Friedel earned his GM title at the 2008 U.S. Championship, but he still has to prove himself a bit before he’s considered to be on the same level as some of the longtime American greats. A plus score would be a solid result still. He’s completely uncompromising so I’d give him the highest chance in this group.

GM Boris Gulko: He’s famous for his plus score against Kasparov, but although he’s still extremely solid and strong, it’s hard to compete on equal footing with the youths when you are over 60 years old.

GM Melikset Khachiyan: This friendly Californian GM is very good at drawing strong GMs (he drew eight ofnine games in the 2007 championship) but I don’t know if he has it in him to beat enough of them to win an event like this. You can’t win the U.S. championship by drawing everyone.

IM Robert Hess: Hess has almost no realistic chance of winning the event, but does have a chance to earn a third GM norm. Coming off of a SuperNationals victory.

IM Ray Robson: A plus score would be quite solid for Robson too, but Ray is obviously very talented and his fans shouldn’t be too satisfied unless he achieves it. Hopefully he can earn his first GM norm in the process.


IM Enrico Sevillano: A very strong player, but he is facing players rated 150 points above him. Many will consider an even score a success and a GM norm is likely the main goal.

IM Irina Krush: Irina is in a similar boat as Sevillano although she does have more experience in such high-profile events. Let’s hope that her Samford fellowship will help her to put forward an impressive performance.

IM Anna Zatonskih: This event should be great practice for Zatonskih, as she should face mostly GMs. I’m sure that many chess fans would love to see a rematch of Zatonskih vs. Krush at some point in this event.

IM Michael Brooks: A local IM who doesn’t play much anymore. About 20 years ago there were times in which he was rated above 2600. With the passing of time this rating has dropped to the low 2400’s, and so his hometown fans will be hoping he can rekindle his old magic for one to two GM scalps.

Tyler Hughes: A dream event for the 2008 U.S. junior champion. I expect that the Colorado youngster will learn a lot from the experience, but given that all of his opponents will be higher rated, expectations won’t be too high.

Charles Lawton: The only player from St. Louis and a bit of a stretch invite by the sponsors, but they are putting on a huge show and if they are set on inviting one or two local players, it’s a mistake to chastise them too greatly. Unfortunately for Charles everyone will be gunning for him, and I’d expect he’d be very happy with a 3/9 score.


U.S. State Champion of Champions

This is an Internet event in which a final spot will be given out. The four players remaining at press time of this article are IM Sam Shankland, John Bryant, Mackenzie Molner and FM Ron Simpson. Only Shankland, the 2008 world U18 bronze medalist, has a chance to make waves in the championship.

As Chess Life went to press, Shankland won.  ~ed.


The sponsors of the U.S. championship, the St. Louis Chess Center, had the right to choose six wild cards for the championship. They chose a mixture of former champs, young rising stars and local heroes. Those six wild cards are:

GM Alex Shabalov, GM Josh Friedel, IM Robert Hess, IM Ray Robson, IM Michael Brooks and Charles Lawton.

I’d like to just briefly mention a few worthy players who also deserved consideration:

IM Alex Lenderman: A young New York player who has recently risen above 2600,  is a former world youth champion, was the 2008 U.S. Chess League MVP, and won the 2008 World Chess Live Grand Prix.

IM Sam Shankland: As Chess Life went to press, Sam won the State Champion of Champions event on ICC and has secured a spot in the championship. ~ed.

GM Larry Kaufman: The 2008 world senior champion.

Daniel Ludwig: A very strong young player from Florida. He earned his first GM norm in Hungary and should be making waves shortly.

FM Daniel Naroditsky: It may have been premature to invite the 2007 world under 12 champion this year, however he’s been making good progress lately and should be considered in the near future.

Look for daily U.S. Championship updates and the official twitter feed on uschess.org and uschesschamps.com. Also join in on the fun by entering the 2009 Fantasy Chess Competition where you pick the winner in head to head match-ups like Kamsky vs. Nakamura.